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EMPAC Video Archive

Johannes Goebel: The Computer as Time Machine

October 13, 2018

Over thousands of years, humans have carved into stone, painted on canvas, printed words in books, and captured images on film in order to pass information down the chain of generations. With digital data storage, we have reached the point where what is precious to individuals, families, and institutions only holds up for a fraction of a generation without constant care and expensive maintenance. For the ease of digital storage comes the cost of rapid obsolescence and “bit rot,” an ironic turn for a media format that seemed to promise longevity, if not permanence.

Digital archives depend on complex technological environments, electricity, chips, air conditioning, maintenance at quite short intervals, and are doomed by changing hardware, operating systems, applications, and data formats. Even if we have electricity and computers 100 years from now, what we have stored and hoped to pass along will be lost and forgotten without continuous, meticulous investment of time and money.